Comment: Arts and culture thrive in the Dakotas

I often find myself telling people that I believe St. Louis is the most culturally rich city, per capita, in the country. We are not New York or Chicago. Well I just got back from a 3000 mile road trip through the Dakotas and back and was treated to more art and culture than I ever imagined I would see on a trip like this -this.

Our first stop was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the most populous city in the state. The arts are alive and well in Sioux Falls. At the turn of the 21st century, the Sioux Empire Arts Council was the leader in the arts scene and annually awards Mayor’s Awards in several categories for excellence demonstrated by the townspeople. The Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk was the first evidence of the wonderful art renaissance in the city. I enjoyed walking along the boardwalk and watching tourists and residents alike enjoy the many well-designed works of art.

We also visited the Washington Pavilion which was originally Washington High School which has been renovated into a beautiful arts center housing two performing arts spaces, a visual art space and a science center.

A permanent collection of Northern Plains tribal arts is housed in the Egger Gallery of the Washington Pavilion in the Visual Arts area and what a special collection it is. Contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Arthur Amiotte and Jim Yellowhawk have works on display that were a feast for the eyes and the soul.

Our next stop was in Rapid City, South Dakota, which had several very high quality native art galleries. Just outside of town is the world-class, world-famous Mount Rushmore National Memorial. I could go on and on about how the monument came to be. To get all the information, just google it, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the actual sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. Borglum’s interest in art developed early, but he received no formal training until he attended a private school in Kansas. He lived and worked and had numerous commissions all over the United States and Europe.

Borglum worked on a project in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Carving was limited to jackhammers and chisels until a visiting Belgian engineer taught Borglum how to use dynamite for precise work.

And of course, a Lakota Sioux warrior, a famous artist, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, and his family and a canvas composed of granite are the elements that make up the legendary past, present and future of the Crazy Horse Memorial also located in the Black Hills of the South Dakota.

Then we left for Fargo, North Dakota, where I picked up a certificate stating that I had visited all fifty states. We visited the Plains Museum of Indian Art which, to our surprise, featured some very important pieces of contemporary art, not solely related to native art. The lineup at this museum was amazing and very impressive. We took a tour and were told that the programming was reinventing the museum. Our guide told us that the staff were working on issues such as the usefulness of the museum to the community and how to break down people’s notions that a museum is just a collection of objects. In 2016, the Museum won the prestigious Bush Prize for Community Innovation and received a grant for a nonprofit that provides leadership in creating collaborative opportunities that work to solve community issues.

On the way back, we stopped in Minneapolis and went crazy with just one day in this sophisticated art-filled city. We ended up visiting the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

We saw the David Hockney exhibition “People, Places and Things” which featured some of his recent prints, paintings and digital works. He has exhibited his work for over six decades and some of his works showcase his engagement with literature and theatre.

We also saw LA artist Liz Larner’s exhibition “Don’t put it back like it was”. In this exhibition, Larner explored the material and social possibilities of sculpture in innovative and surprising ways.

Our last stop was in Des Moines, Iowa where we immediately went to the Des Moines Art Center which is a world class collection of architecture. The original 1948 building was the work of Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen who helped introduce modern architecture to the United States and who, just a few years before his commission at the Art Center, had won a major national competition for a design for the Smithsonian Gallery of Art in Washington DC The art center’s second architect, Chinese-American IMPei, also won a highly competitive commission in Washington for his design for the National Gallery of Art’s east building, just as its 1968 addition to the art center was completed. Completed in 1985, the third building of Richard Meier’s Art Center contrasts sharply with Saarinen’s horizontality and Pei’s humility. Two of the architects were the first winners of the most prestigious international prize for architects, the Pritzker Prize, established in 1979. Pei won in 1983 and Meier in 1984.

These three buildings house a renowned collection of modern and contemporary art. The special exhibit at the time of our visit was “Images Unbound” and dealt with the appropriation of art. A quote from the exhibition brochure reads: “Artists have also looked inward to consider how advances in technology have reshaped the art world itself. Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein and Sherrie Levine , among many others, have wondered how our ability to reproduce images has changed our experience of art.

What a journey and what an enlightenment to see other art institutions striving to achieve the same goals in the art world and in the community.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for over forty years on numerous arts-related councils.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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